After the last of the Penn State Nittany Lions land in Los Angeles today to begin preparations for the Rose Bowl, it may seem as if there is a star football player on every corner.
Penn State's opponent is hometown Southern Cal, and the Trojans, over the last decade, have become as visible as the young actresses that patrol Sunset Strip. For the many Lions who have traveled no farther than last year's Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, a trip west is the perfect opportunity to explore a town they've glimpsed only in movies.
Coach Joe Paterno will unleash his players into the City of Angels during the early portion of Penn State's stay. But his task, as the days count down, will be corralling the Lions back into their pens as the team nears a Jan. 1 kickoff. It may not be that easy considering the pull and allure of Los Angeles.
During Rose Bowl media day 10 days ago, Paterno, who turns 82 today, said that he would do his best to prepare his players for the myth that is California.
"Who created that myth? I think it's the Californians, isn't it?" Paterno said. "Obviously, it's an exotic environment. You get looking out there and they think there's a starlight on every - not starlights. What do they call those girls? Starlets? Whatever they are. I know they are girls, anyway."
Perhaps Paterno, who last brought Penn State to the Rose Bowl 14 years ago, isn't the best source on Los Angeles. A more obvious choice may be Lydell Sargeant. The senior cornerback attended high school in suburban Los Angeles and has been preparing his teammates for what lies ahead.
"He keeps on saying, 'Come on, Dog, I can't wait for you to come home with me,' " wide receiver Derrick Williams said. "Everything he's saying is running through my head. . . . He said it's a different world out there. That we're going to have fun and it's going to be crazy."
Williams said the farthest west he's traveled was to visit relatives in Oklahoma. Many of the Lions have never reached the left coast.
Sargeant's father, Andrew, was in the Air Force. Lydell grew up just outside Pittsburgh but spent his last three years of high school in Lompoc, Calif., which is near Vandenberg Air Force Base.
"It's kind of a dream come true to finally get there my senior year and play some of the guys [on USC] that I played with in high school," he said.
Sargeant, who leads the team with four interceptions, will be the unofficial tour guide to the team. He said he's planning an excursion to Disneyland and a return to his high school.
Many of the other players have other sightseeing plans. Defensive end Josh Gaines hopes to see the iconic "Hollywood" sign. Several anticipate hitting the beach. Even though temperatures are unlikely to reach 70 degrees, the climate will be a break from wintry, inland State College.
"I haven't seen a beach in a long time," said guard Rich Ohrnberger, a native of Long Island. "I'm going to spend a lot of my time there."
Quarterback Daryll Clark will be visiting his brother, Keith, a resident of Los Angeles, for the first time. Keith, on the other hand, will be watching his younger sibling play college football in person for the first time. Daryll reserved a Rose Bowl ticket for his brother. He's hoping to land seats for another game.
"I really want to go out and just watch the Lakers play one time," Clark said. "See Jack Nicholson and all those guys sitting there, watching the game. I think it can happen because the Celtics are in town [on Thursday]."
Paterno has fond memories of old Rose Bowl games - "When I was growing up, they had not started the Rose Bowl," he cracked - but he couldn't coach in the "Granddaddy of Them All" (which started in 1902) until Penn State won the Big Ten conference in 1994.
"When we went out, obviously, I was not exactly sure what to expect," he said. "You don't realize how much there is involved with the rituals that go in the parade and all the other things. It was fun. It was exciting. I'm glad we won [38-20 over Oregon]."
Ultimately, that's the purpose of the trip - to win. Paterno
have no problem reminding his players of that. He has won 23 of 35 bowl games, after all.
"Every bowl game Joe lets us go out there and enjoy the time and the place because it's a reward," Williams said. "But once it gets closer to the game, he tightens it up."
The players were already getting the message.
"We're only out there for one purpose and that's to play a football game," senior safety Anthony Scirrotto said. "We can't get caught up in all the glamour."